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Calvin Fairbank to Frederick Douglass, John Thomas, and Readers of North Star, November 13, 1851


Letter from Calvin Fairbanks.
Very Dear Friends:—
I am locked in jail on a charge of having given aid and comfort once more to an oppressed slave. The community are in much excitement, and whatever may be the proof, and how unjustly soever I was kidnapped from Indiana, contrary to the provisions of the Federal Constitution, which must throw a fire-brand into the owl's nest of despotism. I fear much from public opinion which always "overrides public law," and becomes lawless rule of action.
I have been in this vicinity for some time, and much beyond my expectation, so that I cannot beg pardon of some to whom I was pledged for a visit before this time, and especially of one far away, who, I expect, will, on the perusal of this, make haste to my comfort. On Sunday, Nov. 2, a slave woman left Mr. Shotwell of Louisville, and sought aid and the "north star." She fled from their reach, and has not been recovered. As soon as she was missed, the officers of the town were in vigilant search of her, and men were sent in every direction, with the offer of $150 for Tamer, and $100 for the person who aided her away, if convicted. Last Sunday, the 10th, I was in Jeffersonville, Indiana, which is opposite Louisville, and when passing a stable, from which I had hired a horse and buggy but six days before, (that was on Monday, the 3d,) when my attention was called to the inside. I had been there but a moment, when three or four men came in, asking the man attending, "Is this the man?" When he replied with a very mean appearance, "Yes sir." One, who I afterwards learned to be a Mr. Ragan, who was, as I am informed, once a convict of Kentucky Penitentiary, said, "I want you." I asked, "What do you want of


me?" "I want you to Louisville," said he; "you have been aiding off some niggers." I replied, "I shall not answer your call. It belongs to a court of competent jurisdiction of the State of Indiana to say whether I am to be given up to Kentucky, to be tried for so Christian an act. Have you any authority from the executive of the State?" Ragan then seized me by the cravat, putting his hand inside, and twisting it so as to confine me [truch'n?], rendering it uncomfortable for me to speak or even to breathe. [A] Marshal Rondel took hold of me to aid Ragan. I resisted with all my might, throwing Ragan in a position of about forty-five degrees, when he recovered, throwing me in the same way by help of Marshal Rondel. The struggle continued. I cried aloud for the citizen of Indiana to preserve the honor of the law of the State. I protested my claims to protection, forbidding their lawless interference with my right. All was in vain. No noble citizen raised his hand or his voice in the defense of the constitutional rights of the State.
A man finally stepped forward, said to be the Sheriff of Clark Co., and ordered me to the jail of Jefferson. I consented. But after a short walk, Ragan holding me by the throat still, Mr. Rondel pledging himself to take the responsibility, the Sheriff consented to deliver me into his hands, and permit me to be kidnapped by his aid. I informed Mr. Rondel that he could not take such a responsibility, informed the Sheriff to consent to deliver me up to be kidnapped should be an eternal disgrace to him and his State. I warned, extorted him to do his duty. I was put into a skiff, they not waiting for the ferry, fearing that public sentiment would react, and I was on the river beyond relief. Shotwell waw close behind with my cloak, walking easily and carelessly. "This is a disgrace you can never wipe out." I was on the Ohio river. I was taken from the skiff to jail, searched, my name called for, but refusing, I was called


King. In se[a]rching me they discovered that I had lost my first toe in my left foot. My name is now known.
The jailor, Mr. Buchana, did not appear unkind, but treated me otherwise. The wall in which we are allowed through the day is 70 feet in length, the cells for the night are 9 feet by 5 feet. We have very good food for a prison. We need much we do not get reading, washing, and many other things.—This morning we are locked in for the day. Now, friends, it is hardly needful to inform you that, placed here in the hands of this people, having once been tried in the State for the same offense, though there is no testimony at all that can possibly be brought against me, that would be heard in Cincinnati, Columbus, Buffalo, New York, Boston or Frankfort, Ky., unless I have aid of good counsel I am in imminent danger.
Charles M. Thruston, Attorney at Law, of this city, a very distinguished lawyer, has become my attorney. He entertained hope of acquittal before the Police Court, which will be held in my case as soon as testimony, which they are collecting, shall arrive, perhaps on Monday the 17th. I shall probably be held to bail. We have no idea what it will be.
Mr. Thruston must have $200 to begin with, and if no more can be forwarded, I fear he may feel weak; but if it shall be raised to $300, I shall feel quite safe. He will labor faithfully I assure you. Besides, if my case shall appear worse than it does now, I shall feel that bail must be had. I say I feel safe with anything of a defense; but without, I am subject to suffer from injustice. Capt. Craig has been sent for at Frankfort to identify me before the Police Court.
From what I have been able to gather from my attorney, Charles M. Thruston, and others who have called on me, and from the length of time I have been in confinement without examination, I judge that as to my certain knowledge no testimony can be produced


connecting me with the absconding of Tamer. My enemies are in great doubt as to the probability even of committing me for bail. Having been kidnapped from Indiana at the time when anti-slavery is in so flourishing a state in Kentucky, right in face of some of its warmest advocates, there seems to be a sense of shame that has kept my name from the public prints since my first arrest; and I know nothing of the cause of the delay unless it be from this and another still more hopeless, that is, want of testimony. I will give you the testimony which I learn they have contemplated offering.
1st. Tamer run off on Sunday evening, Nov. 2. 2d. That I was seen in Indiana about 20 miles where my buggy failed, with a woman of color, with whom I passed on in other conveyance. 3d. That I was seen on Sunday at dusk in this city, and went to bed in Jeffersonville, Ia., at 9 o'clock P.M., and rose at 4 A.M., hired a buggy and left town. 4th. That Tamer asked her mistress to go out to a neighbor at evening, and was seen no more. 5th. That she asked for me, by what name I was ashamed to ask, for I thought this to be a forgery. Here is the tesimony that is anticipated by the State, and the only paragraph that I think will be allowed if I am held to trial are the first and third; and I am in doubt that this third one will be proven.
It cannot be made to appear without forged testimony. Some anxiety has been expressed to make a compromise, by which I may be rewarded and Tamer recovered. This I spurn.
I purpose, as soon as possible, to petition the Governor of Indiana for redress, asking him if, according to the constitution, I may be forcibly taken therefrom into Kentucky and to secure me to his Excellency's protection, until the executive of Kentucky shall require me for trial in the commonwealth, for I well know that had legal steps been


taken in Indiana, I should never have been lodged in jail in this city or any other in the State.
This must hurl a fire-brand into the "owl's nest of despotism" that will raise about the ears of this people a storm, that whosoever hear it, both his ears shall tingle, and it will, if in the dust of that sleeping host who have gone before us, if in the souls of the fathers of '76 there was anything of the spirit of liberty, rouse a might indignation that must call their spirits from the abode of the dead to chide with compunctions such cowardice and misrule.
But my need of help is great. Though the testimony that is proposed to be brought against me would not be allowed to be introduced in any court in the North of which I have any knowledge, or any case coming within its jurisdiction, yet the prejudice on this subject, and against me for having once interferred in the case of Lewis Hayden, will make it exceedingly dangerous for me to [go] into trial without a powerful advocate, and perhaps without bail I shall be in great danger from prejudices that must grow out of my condition here. I feel no appreahensions of danger in coming to trial if you do your duty, but shall choose to come to trial. Mr. Charles M. Thruston, my able attorney, has just left the jail. He informs me that my bail may not be over a thousand dollars.
Now, my case is before you. What I say to one, I say to all, and your course will prove how much you love me, how much you love mankind, and the cause we have espoused, and for which we have been crucified by being identified with the poor slave. When Mr. Chaplin was in peril, it stirred the blood of all who felt for liberty: you rallied to his rescue. Yes, you—who shall I name I rallied, you did Frederick, you did Joseph Hathaway, you did friend Jackson, and numerous ladies all over the land. Where shall be my one thousand friends[?] If they find the woman and prove that she is the woman that is said to have rode with me. Mr. Thruston says it will have to be admitted


in court, and the jury will then [allow] it as much strength as they please. If, [then,] they can find any one who is willing to swear that he or she saw me in Louisville on that day, they will allow that what they please.—Then, if any one will swear that I talked with any persons of color on that day in Louisville, that will strengthen the chain. I apprehend no danger from this, unless [some] shall be over anxious to serve the cause by perjury. If I shall be convicted on this, you will never see my face again, nor hear my voice out of prison. Do not allow me to spend my life as a martyr to this cause when a little exertion will rescue me.
I know that my death in a prison might awaken a new spirit in the North, and open the eyes of the South to the injustice of holding property in man. What did Mr. Jefferson say? They have forgotten it. It is this: "I do not wish to see it recognized by the Constitution of the United States that there can be property in man." But brethren in the cause of freedom, in the cause of Christ, in the church, shall I be forgotten?—Sisters, will you forget me? I feel, that if forgotten by brethren, I shall not be forgot by you. To dwell on martyrdom, in song that may bring the briny tear adown the cheek, and in eulogy, such as fell from the lips of Henry B. Stanton, in Faneuil Hall, on the occasion of the burial of Charles T. Torrey at Mount Auburn, is one thing; but to dwell in a cold, dreary, lonesome jail, though full of felons, and where the very voice of one startles with the fact that friends near and dear to whom I am pledged in the strongest relations cannot enjoy me, and who deeply feel, and sincerely loved me, and whom I love in return, is quite another. I have some dear companions. That will not bring my dear ones to me. I hope that my friends will not wait to have me write them separately, for it is not always convenient; but those who love me most, will according


to their ability, send or come to my rescue first. I need money to use for my comfort. I can use it. Mr. Thruston of this city is my attorney, and wants $[200] at least. Then I want bail, who will do it? Another thing, I hope that you who live in the vicinity of my mother, in Bolivar, Allegany County, N. Y., will not fail to [care for] her, and my sister, Lydia. "Mr. Hoyt, Head-Master in that place, will be depended upon at any time to do any business. Bro. A. N. Cole of Belfast, Allegany County, N. Y., and Peter Robertson of Nile, same place, may also be relied upon. Friends, I must [ ] you good day, and remain
Yours in behalf of the slave,
Calvin Fairbanks.
Louisville Jail, Nov. 13th, 1851.


Fairbank, Calvin




Calvin Fairbank to Frederick Douglass, John Thomas, and Readers of North Star. PLSr: Frederick Douglass' Papers, 27 November 1851. Discusses unjust charge of aiding escaped slaves from jail cell.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper



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Frederick Douglass' Paper